Tracking a killer disease

CHARLES Sturt University PhD student Di Hughes believes the body’s red blood cells could hold the key to unlocking the secrets of Parkinson’s disease.

Her tests on the blood of people with the debilitating disease and rheumatoid-arthritis sufferers have shown that inflammation in their red blood cells had altered the cells’ shape.

This changed shape has led her to believe sufferers’ blood flows have been affected.

Ms Hughes said the changes did not necessarily cause the disease but it could contribute to how quickly the disease progressed or how a person responded to treatment.

She has tested about 60 people in eight months and wants to now test at least 30 more for her investigation to be viable.

She wants another 15 people with Parkinson’s and 15 people with rheumatoid arthritis to volunteer so she can develop her findings.

“Whenever you make a discovery about what could be contributing to the disease, it may make a difference to how it is treated,” she said.

“The more information we get is a step closer to diagnosing it.

“At the very least, we should know how the patient should be monitored for it.”

Free radicals are the opposite of antioxidants and Ms Hughes said she had believed free radicals in people with rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s may cause the inflammation and altered shape of the red blood cells.

Ms Hughes hopes to complete her tests by April.

“Then we can conclude whether these red blood cell changes are definitely having an impact on the disease,” she said.

She said she had chosen to focus her experiment on blood cells because they circulated throughout the body and she believed the disease affected the body and not just the brain.

Associate Professor Paul Tinley said the university’s student clinic treated several people with Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s a big and debilitating problem because some patients are not even able to cut their own nails,” he said.

“This research adds to information we already know so it will possibly help us control it and make a difference.”

Ms Hughes said volunteers would not only be making a generous donation, but would receive a fasting and blood sugar test to update them on their health.

For more information about getting involved phone Di Hughes on 0417 695 297.

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